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The old adage “It’s not what you know that matters, it’s who you know” is an incredibly vague statement. The assumption behind this statement is that your professional network has the ability to enhance your career prospects, and it is well documented that the person you spend your time with ultimately influences how successful or unsuccessful you are at achieving it your goals will be. However, I have personally found it difficult to establish a process of how to interact with the people in my network, particularly those who I define as my mentors.
Mentors can play an equally important role in our personal and professional development. However, they differ from therapists, executive coaches or startup consultants in that there is not necessarily a transactional element to your relationship, which removes any commitment or expectation as to how these individuals should be treated.
Here are some observations I’ve made in building my own mentoring network and reflections on how I can give back to be a stronger mentor to others.
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Build the framework
Defining your personal values forms the basis, or mentoring framework, for all relationships you build. To get to the bottom of these values, I decided to think about two meta questions before I started looking for mentors.
What is my ultimate goal?
What results am I striving for in my personal and professional life?
I wrote the following: “Building and living a life that is fun, fulfilling and meaningful for my family, myself and those I love most.” Relationships are at the core of my ultimate goal, and balancing the personal and professional aspects of my life is critical to achieving that goal. In writing the purpose statement, I listed each of the main categories that I prioritized and invested energy in to align with that purpose. For me these are the following categories: Professional, financial, personal development, family, friends, health and spirituality.
Each of these categories has specific time-based outcomes that I strive for, which often change and evolve as I learn and grow. However, with this framework in place, you have the foundation to find people who align with your personal value proposition and the categories you want to improve.
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Create a process
I firmly believe that you can learn from anyone; However, I also agree that you should strive to structure and focus on who you are engaging with and whether they align with your statement of intent and the categories defined above.
I have thought about the structure of my mentoring network in three levels
ball player: The people I want to be one day
Ballers waiting: The people I want to be and currently work for
Ballers in training: The people I work with and respect and admire.
In total, that could be up to 21 different people, considering this across three levels and seven different focus categories. Twenty-one people is a lot of people to form meaningful relationships with! To make my process more sustainable, I have worked to consolidate certain categories under individual mentors so that that individual can support my development across multiple areas.
This group is fluid as my outcomes and priorities change, and also which categories of my life I focus more or less time on. I proactively try to have three people from each category that I come into contact with on a quarterly basis.
If I don’t manage to get in touch with any of these people during the year, I make sure there is at least one annual touchpoint with everyone I’ve built a relationship with. For me, this is an annual holiday newsletter where I update on progress versus my results throughout the year. This was also a great way to start conversations on areas I might need assistance with, almost like an annual investor update without the expectation of me having to write them a fat check or mail shareholder documentation!
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Once you’ve committed to building the framework and building those relationships in different areas of your personal and professional life, it’s really helpful to create systems of accountability for yourself as a mentee AND mentor.
As a mentee, I highly recommend joining or masterminding the people in your influential mentor network (e.g. founders, entrepreneurs, parents). While building my startup, I joined a mastermind with four other entrepreneurs I respected (aka “Ballers in Training”). As part of the mastermind, we created an accountability structure that required members to attend at least three out of four meetings each month. If a member missed more than one meeting for two consecutive months, they were replaced in the mastermind.
As a mentor, I believe focus is key. I have previously signed up for almost six different startup mentoring networks and have provided value in absolutely NONE of them. I’ve made it a priority to select ONE founding community that I can support to give what I’ve learned back to the mentors. Communities like Chief, Hampton and Pavilion offer new opportunities for forging new relationships between cohorts of like-minded, ambitious professionals.
Additionally, I block out three hours on Friday afternoons so that mentees from this community can schedule time with me to discuss their business challenges. Most importantly, I have no strings attached to these Friday meetings. For this time as a startup consultant or consultant, I do not expect any start-up capital or fees.
In summary, I am grateful for the entrepreneurs, coaches, therapists, counselors, and parents who have offered to spend their time with me, and for the people who have entrusted their time to me. I hope these principles will be as useful to you as they have been to me. And if not, then I clearly need a mentor for mentoring frameworks. So if you know someone, get in touch with me!